ROME – For 43 years, the head of Sicily’s notorious Cosa Nostra organization had eluded arrest, moving from hideout to hideout in the rugged hills of western Sicily while running the world’s best-known organized crime syndicate.

Until Tuesday, when his wife did his laundry and he got caught.

In what Italian officials described as the culmination of an elaborate investigation, police tailed a network of couriers who delivered Bernado Provenzano’s laundry from his wife’s home to the nearby farmhouse where he was holed up, cooking a pot of chicory on the stove for lunch and preparing to type a letter on an old manual typewriter.

“My dear love” were the only words he had typed, Italian state television reported, speculating that he was writing a note to his wife. Provenzano, 73, was unarmed, admitted his identity and offered no resistance as he was led away, police said.

The house was just a mile and a half from Corleone, the quaint Sicilian town where Provenzano was born and that was immortalized by the movie “The Godfather.” He was anointed the real-life Godfather of the Sicilian mafia in 1992, 21 years after he went on the lam for killing a rival.

Nicknamed “the Tractor” because of the reputed efficiency with which he disposes of his enemies, Provenzano has since been held responsible for dozens, even hundreds, of murders. He awaits at least three life sentences in absentia, and his arrest was hailed as a major coup for the Italian police.

“Cosa Nostra has indisputably been decapitated,” Interior Minister Guiseppe Pisanu told a press conference in Rome.

But the capture also raises many questions, including why it took the authorities so long to find Italy’s most wanted man in such a small corner of a tiny island. Provenzano had become a legend across Italy for the ease with which he evaded police over the past four decades, despite rumors and persistent sightings that suggested he had never strayed far.

The news instantly eclipsed the drama of Italy’s deadlocked political election, and TV channels switched to live coverage of Provenzano’s arrival at police headquarters in Palermo. There, big crowds of onlookers gathered to hurl insults at the mafia’s boss of bosses, chanting “bastard” and “murderer” as Provenzano was hustled into the building by flak-jacketed police officers wearing ski masks.